DVD Review – Phil Maturano: Afro-Cuban Drumming

     Latin music is something that isn’t often covered in depth in most drum instructional videos. There are a lot of books on the subject but for some reason they don’t seem to have attempted to seriously cover this topic in a video. Well, Phil Maturano has filled that gap with this DVD. Like with pretty much every other DVD I’ve reviewed, depending on which description you read (there’s a million of them) you’ll come away with very different ideas of what this DVD is supposed to offer. I’ve seen descriptions pretty much saying that not only will you be able to play latin music like a pro, you’ll also be able to speak fluent Spanish and make a mean Paella. However, the best description of what you’re getting with this DVD comes from Phil’s website. This DVD “is designed to give the drumset player a “birds eye view”of the Afro Cuban drumming experience.”

     Now before I go any further I must warn you that this DVD (as well as Mike Terrana’s DVD) are both in PAL format which means that unless you have PAL compatible DVD player you won’t be able to watch this DVD. Here in the states we pretty much use NTSC so beware if you are an American looking at renting or purchasing this DVD.  

     Back to the feature itself, this video should be viewed as a primer to playing Afro-Cuban music WITH A GROUP. As Phil explains in the video, there is very often more then one percussionist in a Afro-Cuban band and drummers are the newbs. All the other percussion instruments were around loooooong before the drum-set was introduced into latin music, so it’s your job to not step on the toes of the other players. So if you’re looking for an encyclopedia of hot licks to solo with during your unscheduled solo in the middle of  “La Cucaracha” you’re in the wrong place. (However! If that IS what you are looking for, Phil has a book that might interest you.)

     It starts out with Phil talking about what  kind of setup you should have for playing latin music and the role of each piece of the drum-set in latin music. Which is also a good excuse for him to push his endorsements really hard. He then goes on to talk about the clave, how it relates to Latin music, and why it’s so often misunderstood and even mystified. This is one of my favorite sections because he explains that the clave has metaphorical meanings as well as being an integral rhythm in Latin music. It also has an interesting aspect of bridging the gap between 6/8 and cut time which are the most popular time signatures for latin music. The 6/8 comes from the music’s African roots where cut time is more prevalent in modern Latin music.

     From here the main focus of the video remains on functioning in an Afro Cuban percussion section in different situations. This is what the video is really about. He teaches you the function of a rhythm on it’s traditional instrument and how it’s played when moved to a drum-kit. You’re taught almost as much about playing the other percussion instruments as you are playing on the drum-set. This is great because you need to know what you are imitating because you’re a backup percussionist more then you’re a traditional drum-set player. This is the best part of the whole DVD because it actually tells you what you need to know to be the drummer in an Afro-Cuban band. Not how to latinize your playing, not how to be Tito Puente on the kit, and most definitely not how to play Latin rock like Tris Imboden.

     From here there is a small section on integrating the left foot clave into your playing. Phil pretty much says that there two levels of using the left foot clave. The first is just being able to use it in patterns, the second is mad crazy soloing and fills over a clave. He says that for level one you should buy his book. For those of who have already achieved ownership of his book and a decent command of the left foot clave, he demonstrates some of his favorite fill/solo ideas over a clave. 

     After that he goes over how the clave is the key in moving through cut time and 6/8 in latin music. Basically it’s a way to help internalize the clave rhythm and naturalize non native players. More importantly it’s also a spot for him to pimp his OTHER book that he neglected to mention earlier. After that there’s a song performance with the whole band and it’s over.

     Time for the breakdown… but this time I’m going to try something new. I discovered during some of my recent reviews that I thought I did a better job of conveying how I felt about the DVD and it’s parts when I didn’t use the Mics.

     Content wise the vid is excellent in terms of providing a birds-eye view of the drummer’s role in an Afro Cuban setting. In fact it’s the best… but that’s not saying too much because it has little competition in this field. For now though, it’s king of the hill. There are PDF’s for the exercises and what not but they aren’t on the actual DVD. You have to email phil with proof of purchase to get the exercise PDFs if you didn’t buy it through his website. I can’t say much about those PDFs cause I rented the video so I don’t have exercise to them, but I’m sure they are useful. I just think this is a bad way go about distributing them.

     Presentation wise it’s got great camera work and makes great use of splitting up the screen so you can get everything at once. Phil himself is mellow and not a very exciting host. You might like that but I like my hosts to have a good deal of energy and enthusiasm in their presentation (see Billy Ward & Gregg Bissonette.) Like I said Phil pushes product at almost every opportunity he gets but he did it in a way that was quite annoying and teasing. The way it’s structured in terms of giving the viewer breaks and changes to keep it from getting repetitive was handled badly. You’re going to hate that freaking piano riff in the sound clip they use to transition from one chapter to another.

     Extras in this thing are almost non existent in terms of stuff that might entertain and enlighten the viewer. There is one VERY short behind the scenes clip which is kinda… meh. There are a ton of extra adds for the stuff he hocks on the DVD. Remember the PDFs i said that weren’t on the DVD? Well, there are PDFs on the DVD but it’s just adds and catalogues for his endorsers.

     Bottom line the content of the DVD is pretty darn good but his constant attempts to sell me stuff along with a mediocre performance as host makes this DVD quite irritating to watch for me. No real extras to speak of and you can’t get the PDF’s if you are going to rent the DVD… which unduly pressures us to buy this DVD even though for some of us it’s only worth a rent.

If you really wanna learn the basics of being the drummer in an Afro Cuban setting then you should rent it to make sure you are in love with it before you shell out the money for the PDF. Everyone else should probably just glean what they can from renting it and send it back.

Leave me a comment about what you think of my little no mic score experiment. After all the review is about you guys.

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